Tuesday, May 01, 2012

On Book Reviews

I like reading book reviews, the good ones and especially the bad ones. I can extract a lot of useful information from them, on character and plot development, on readers’ expectations. I read them on Amazon, on GoodReads, and on other few sites that publish reviews on a regular basis.

Being written by people, reviews are subjective so they have to be taken with a grain of salt. However, the reviewer’s dislike or ignorance of a genre shouldn’t mean a bad mark for the book.

I mostly ignore the good reviews, especially when they are overly enthusiastic. Sometimes, they look partisan, as if written by friends to give a boost to the ratings. But even if they are sincere, too much praise feels kind of syrupy. When the praise, however, is backed by a thorough analysis then it becomes useful.

Of course, many times the bad reviews are prejudiced too and you can tell the reviewer hasn’t even read the book carefully. There are also the self-righteous reviewers who think they know everything about how somebody should behave, fall in love (I’m reading a lot of YA lately) and generally react to a given situation, on the principle that what they would or wouldn’t do is a universal rule. But people are extremely diverse and, although we all partake in the same human nature, we each might take a different bite out of it. If a character in a book annoys you because of how she behaves, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is a bad writer, maybe quite on the contrary. In real life, there are stupid people and intelligent people, cautious people and rash people, etc., etc. If we would all be the same, then where would the fun be?

For good or bad reviews, you have to know how to read in between the lines and, in the end, of course, form your own opinion. I love reading excerpts to get a taste of a book, and I have bought many books after doing that. I have also borrowed books from the local library and then bought them because I loved them so much I had to have them. There are books that I cannot put down and have to force myself to put them down, because if I don’t then my stay in their universe would be over too soon. And there are books (I can still count them on one hand’s fingers) that are simply not palatable to me and that I had to put down unfinished.

I know it is very difficult to write a useful book review and I admire those who can. I’ve tried it but I’m not gifted or patient enough to dissect on paper the whole justification behind a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it.”

I can read, though, read, read, read. And this is a small sample of what I have piled up on my nightstand… (rubbing my hands in gleeful anticipation)

It even makes for nice little almost-poem…

Midnight in Rosary

Hold me closer, necromancer
Die for me,
Our Lady of Darkness,
shatter me
across the Universe.


Rick said...

Love the poem, Vesper!

And re book reviews, you should try your hand at it for White Cat. Are you up for that?

the walking man said...

Book reviews are useful but I always forget to read them until I finish the book. If I had known War and Peace was over half a billion words long...ha ha ha I still would have read it.

You have once again proven my personal creed Vesper...there is poetry in everything.

Now without reading any reviews i think I am going to have to go and look at Charles book, I never had a taste for the fantastical but his style of direct writing is making me acquire a taste for it.

Odd though if you had not pictured it I never would have known about it. Trusting your taste...does that count as a book review. And say yes to Rick!

Bernard Lee DeLeo said...

Amazon has been trying to police the sock puppet army reviews to some extent, and they do take complaints when an author feels they're being targeted by trolls. With the lengthy excerpts allowed by Amazon, it's much easier to sample a novel and be sure a reader gets what is expected. Nicely threaded poem. :)

Vesper said...

Rick, thank you so much!
About writing a review... that's very tempting... :-)

Mark, I read reviews for my entertainment, not really for helping me decide if I should buy a book or not.
Charles's book is great. I'm thinking about writing more about it...
I tried leaving a comment on your blog for that exquisite Gardening Love but it wouldn't take. I'll have to try again, maybe in another browser.

Bernard, thank you for stopping by. I like reading excerpts on Amazon and elsewhere. I enjoyed reading your post, which also touches the matter of "artificial" reviews.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'm on the top of the pile! Yeah!

Thanks for the mention!

Rob said...

I've always loved to read book reviews and have been writing a lot myself over the last year. I'm one of those people who scour Goodreads or Amazon reviews before buying anything.

You should give writing them a try again at some point. I find it's a fun way to revisit what you've just read and consider it a bit more.

laughingwolf said...

too many 'reviewers' are not - nuff said

like mark, i often complete a book before i see a review of it, by then, i don't care about the review

one writer i was thrilled to discover: brandon sanderson... the guy is amazing... just when you think he`s surprised you for the last time, he blows your mind, again and again... - *the way of kings* is the first in a series... he`s so good, he was chosen to complete *the wheel of time* series

i`m back: new look, same crap

Aniket Thakkar said...

The only reviews I've written have unfortunately been the syrupy kind for friends. But I meant every word I wrote.

And I never read book reviews because my elder brother reads everything under the sun, and just passes the best ones to me. He's my filter. :)

Rick said...

Hello Vesper. Be tempted. Be more than tempted. Say yes. I'll tell Chuck to keep an eye out over at editor@whitecapublications. He's busy working on the Steampunk anthology titled "Airships and Automatons." That seems right up your alley, too. Now if I can get Charles to submit to along with you. And, if I can get the Walking Man permission to write a poem or two we'll be rolling.

So, make me happy.

Anonymous said...

I think reviews are like a deadly gun that only a handful of people know how to use properly, but everybody has one. For that reason it's probably just as important to know how to receive evaluate reviews as how to give them. Nice post. (At the risk of being 'syrupy')

SzélsőFa said...

what a creepy little, almost poem these titles made!
off to read the rest of the post :)

SzélsőFa said...

i found your post useful. recently i took part in a writers' virtual course and we got to read each other's writings and also, we were asked to comment on the writing.
there is a fine balance between accepting every piece of writing as it is - and correcting it not on your own, but on some general good taste and guidelines.
i think i made a progress in editing other people's work, but it only means i still have a lot to learn.
i tend to be the type you described - the one who judges on her own way of seeing things.
but a reviewer has to reach a higher point of view.
once s/he got there, but only after s/he got there can s/he add some of her/his personality to the picture.
those were my two cents.